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  • Writer's pictureBrian Trimble

Post-COVID Office Returns

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

The government's efforts have paid off because COVID-19 cases continue to decline, and state and municipal governments have released the last remaining pandemic restrictions.

Now, many offices request that workers return to their physical locations for work. According to a Pew Research Center study, 60% of employees who can do their work from home said that if given the option, they would choose to work from home most of the time or until the pandemic is over. This data shows an increase over the previous year's figure of 54%.

But what happens if you either make the choice to return to work or are obligated to go back? What factors should individuals examine while determining whether or not to return to the office or other physical work environments? Should they continue to wear masks even if they are not obligated to do so?

Is it safe to take a seat in a meeting room? What about the dangers of using public transportation such as buses and trains? And are there any job situations that individuals should attempt to avoid at all costs?

Typically, the beginning of summer is when Americans are more concerned with getting away rather than returning to work. Others whose companies have been closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and those working from home must now consider what it will be like to return to an actual workplace after being absent for many weeks.

In fact, last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released advice for companies on ensuring a safe and secure environment where employees may return to their jobs. Why? Because even though your workplace has been restored, coming into the office does not constitute a risk-free condition. (Especially when you're not at home, proper hand hygiene and maintaining sufficient physical distance are still crucial.)

Common Worries When Returning to the Workplace

Before proceeding, every contact and event, from traveling in an elevator to purchasing lunch at the cafeteria, should be considered. The following are some frequent worries you may have about returning to your workplace once COVID restrictions are lifted. Some suggestions for being safe are also below.

1. You work in a large workplace where you must use the elevator.

Dr. Jay Varkey, an associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and an epidemiologist at Emory University Hospital, tells CNBC Make It that employers should put hand sanitizer stations at the entrance and exit of every elevator. According to the CDC, supplies such as soap, hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol, tissues, paper towels, and no-touch trash cans should be readily available when the facility reopens.

Some individuals prefer to push elevator buttons using inanimate things, such as a paper towel, rather than with their fingers. Of course, you should get into the habit of washing your hands after coming into contact with these surfaces. Alternatively, you may reduce the danger of touching an elevator button by simply cleaning your hands after exiting the elevator and before entering it.

The ideal situation would be for your firm and office building to restrict the number of individuals who may travel in an elevator to allow for segregation. It would help if you were very conscientious about wearing a mask and biking with no more than one or two other individuals.

2. There are shared amenities such as the toilet, stairwell, and cafeteria.

Observe locations where people have continued to work, such as hospitals and grocery shops, to get valuable insight. Although hospitals feature crowded quarters and shared workrooms, many healthcare professionals have avoided becoming ill by strictly adhering to safety procedures.

According to the reopening rules, workplaces should lock shared break rooms or stagger their usage so that fewer individuals assemble simultaneously and apply floor markers to designate six feet in locations where physical barriers cannot be used.

It is your responsibility to prevent congregating. The same goes for the bathroom. You should avoid entering if many people use the public toilet, practice good hand hygiene, and stay away from high-touch areas.

It is also best to avoid sharing food (or coffee makers) with your fellow employees at lunch anymore, and you shouldn't share snacks with your colleagues. According to the CDC's recommendations for office buildings, high-touch shared goods should be replaced with single-serve, pre-packaged equivalents.

In addition, having lunch with a colleague is potentially dangerous since we tend to touch our lips and often face them when eating. People working in workplaces should continue to wear masks during breaks and maintain physical distance from one another in any common area.

This is especially true in settings where employees prefer to mingle since there is a propensity for individuals to relax in such an atmosphere, which is particularly true in offices.

It is also recommended that employers and employees work together to reduce the number of face-to-face meetings in unnecessary conference rooms. It is preferable not to plan such sessions. Consider conducting your lunch breaks and meetings outdoors, where there is less potential for viral transmission than indoors.

3. It is difficult and unpleasant to wear a mask for the full day.

According to the CDC, employers should require employees to wear face masks or fabric face coverings. Using a mask is especially vital when you are in situations where maintaining social distance is difficult to achieve, such as in an elevator or a corridor. Masks should be provided by any employer that instructs workers to wear them in the workplace. The employer's responsibility is to ensure that employees know how to wear them properly.

Moreover, wearing a mask all day may be quite inconvenient, as we all know. One of the most common complaints in the healthcare industry is that the straps on a mask may irritate their ears after wearing it for an extended amount of time. Consider getting one with ties in the back rather than loops to avoid this from occurring in the first place.

However, it would be best to look for a mask that you can easily wear for the entirety of your day without having to touch or modify it. Additionally, it will be best if you don't use the same mask for more than a day at a time.

You can wear various masks on different days of the week. For instance, you can use a different mask while exercising outside than when working at your desk since various materials feel more comfortable on your face depending on the environment and activity. You should also check that any skin creams or cosmetics you wear will not interfere with the fabric covering.

Preventive Measures to Practice at the Workplace

After discussing the frequent worries of individuals returning to work as COVID-19 precautions are lifted, it is time to provide ideas on how to be safe and prevent contracting the virus from your place of employment.

Get your vaccinations and boosters.

You may need a booster dose of your COVID-19 immunizations when you return to the doctor's office, so take advantage of this opportunity. When it comes to defending yourself against COVID-19 at this point, there is no better option than being vaccinated with COVID-19.

Even if you've had COVID-19, it's important to be immunized and get booster shots. The immunity provided by vaccination is greater and lasts longer than the immunity provided by spontaneous infection. Furthermore, evidence reveals that individuals who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 are twice as likely as those vaccinated after recovering from their sickness to get the virus again.

Keep simple safety measures at the forefront of your thoughts.

However, even if community transmission is low in your region, it is still necessary to practice basic hand hygiene and follow established safety measures in particular circumstances to ensure your own safety and that of others.

You shouldn't feel embarrassed about maintaining a safe distance or continuing to wear a mask. If you are ill with COVID-19 but are unaware of it, wearing a mask may prevent the spread of the virus. It also serves to safeguard the person wearing it from being ill. Your employer may mandate you to wear a mask, but even if they do not, you should consider donning one while you are in public areas such as hallways, toilets, conference rooms, break rooms, and elevators to protect yourself from germs.

Check with your employer to see what safeguards are in place.

For example, are the cleaning procedures and protocols? Has the use of hand sanitizer and social distance guidelines been implemented? In addition, are personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, readily available?

Avoid traveling with others and research public transportation safety.

The fact that individuals commute together inevitably places them close to one another. For your protection, it would be preferable if you could refrain from doing so for the time being. If you cannot avoid carpooling or commuting with others, then only travel with people you live with, people who have recently been tested for the virus, and those who share your beliefs regarding social distance and mask-wearing.

Also, public transportation may be an alternative if it is deemed safe. Seats on trains and buses have been cordoned off, requiring passengers to sit at least six feet apart. They've also often instituted severe sanitization and mask-wearing standards.

Still, Bartlett recommends having hand sanitizer or wipes with you while traveling on public transportation, wiping off items you will be touching, and remembering to keep your hands away from your face.

Workplace social separation should be practiced.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that you keep at least six feet away from people and wear a mask or a Plexiglass face shield.

If you have to sit next to other people, you may even ask your company to install Plexiglass at the top of your corporate cubicle if you have to do so. It would also be preferable if there were flexible schedules available, if feasible, to avoid individuals sitting too near to one another as well as arriving and leaving the office simultaneously.

Keep your distance from crowded elevators.

If you work in an elevator-equipped building, avoid using it whenever possible. If you cannot do so, ask those who are waiting with you if you can stagger elevator use. If there are already more than five people in the elevator, it is best to wait until the next one arrives.

Clean and sanitize your working station.

It would be safe and practical if you had a hand sanitizer and cleaning items near your workspace or desk. Additionally, wherever possible, avoid touching railings and other surfaces. When you touch door handles, elevator buttons, or other objects, sterilize your hands before washing them as soon as possible.

Keep an eye out for any unsanitized equipment.

Common coffee pot handles should be cleaned and sanitized after each usage in the medical sector, and you should wash your hands after using a common coffee pot in general. However, many businesses are falling short when setting up break rooms, which is much more harmful since you cannot wear a mask when eating.

Maintain a six-foot space between you and the person you are sitting across from at a table while stressing that sitting across from someone at a table is just around three feet. Also, remember to wipe off surfaces, such as refrigerator and sink handles, microwave buttons, and other frequently touched areas, before using them to avoid contamination.

Ask your coworkers about their willingness to assist you.

You should welcome your coworkers and instruct them to notify you if they see you doing anything unsafe — even subconsciously, such as stroking your face — while at work. This will make them feel more comfortable encouraging you to do the same, and it will foster a sense of camaraderie among your team as you work together to keep each other safe.

American Staffing Association polled employees in March 2021 and found that respondents were most concerned about getting COVID-19 at work or during the commute, preferring to work from home, and not having obtained a COVID-19 vaccine as the main hurdles to returning to the office.

According to Marissa Baker, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington School of Public Health in Seattle, there may be a fear of returning to work after a traumatic event.

Since the outbreak, workers' lives have been radically altered, and many individuals have established new routines. They must now consider various concerns, such as daycare alternatives and the safest mode of public transportation. Employers must progressively reintegrate employees back into the workplace while also providing a high level of assistance.

If you've been working from home for the last two years, the notion that you can show up in the office on Monday and go on as if nothing has changed while simultaneously adhering to all of the new regulations is simply absurd.

Final Words

Because we've all gone through many kinds of challenges related to COVID-19, we each have our own set of continuing issues; being courteous and mindful of others is the key to making things less stressful for ourselves and others around us. Follow these recommendations and implement these safety procedures in your workplace to help avoid the spread of this potentially deadly illness.

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